Penn State succumbs to No. 13 Ohio State in double overtime
UNIVERSITY PARK — After a first half in which it appeared every bit the biggest road favorite in Beaver Stadium history, Ohio State had to sweat through two overtimes to escape with a victory.
Penn State rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to take an overtime lead, but quarterback J.T. Barrett’s second touchdown run of overtime lifted the No. 13 Buckeyes to a 31-24 win Saturday night.
“There are no moral victories at Penn State, and there never will be,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. “But I’m really proud of how (the players) fought.”
Barrett, who also threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to Jeff Heuerman, ran for a 5-yard touchdown to end the first overtime after the Lions’ Bill Belton had a 1-yard scoring run. Barrett’s 4-yard rush on a drive that began at the Penn State 121⁄2-yard line following a personal foul penalty proved to be the difference.
The game ended — fittingly, with the struggles Penn State’s offensive line has been having — with a sack of Christian Hackenberg on fourth down during the Lions’ second overtime possession.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we need to correct,” Franklin said, “but we’re making progress. It might not show on the scoreboard, but we’re making progress.”
DaeSean Hamilton had a Penn State-record 14 receptions — for 126 yards — but the Lions (4-3, 1-3) still lost their third in a row overall and third straight to Ohio State.
But this one was much closer than last season’s 63-14 loss in Columbus, Ohio.
The Lions had 66 yards of offense at halftime and 91 through three quarters, but buoyed by an Anthony Zettel 40-yard interception return for a touchdown during the third quarter, scored 10 points in the final 11:08 to force overtime.
Sam Ficken’s 31-yard field goal with 9 seconds to play in regulation set up the fifth overtime game among the past seven Big Ten contests played at Beaver Stadium. This one didn’t last as long as last season’s four-overtime classic — the annual “Whiteout” late kickoff — when Penn State outlasted Michigan, 43-40.
Penn State began the game 13th in the Big Ten in points and had scored two touchdowns in the previous three conference games. Its offense needed until the fourth quarter to score a touchdown Saturday.
Penn State’s stingy defense kept it in the game long enough for Hackenberg and company to awaken from their month-long slumber.
Hackenberg, who had two interceptions, threw just his second touchdown pass since Sept. 6. True freshman Saeed Blacknall made a leaping grab along the sideline in front of a defender on third-and-6 from the Ohio State 24-yard line 3:20 into the fourth quarter.
The Lions’ defense forced six Ohio State punts after the Buckeyes had punted a combined five times over the previous four games.
Penn State took over at its 9 with 2:58 to play in regulation and drove into Ohio State territory.
A roughing-the-passer penalty pushed the Lions into field-goal range, and receptions by Geno Lewis and Jesse James got them to the Ohio State 14.
When Ficken’s 31-yard attempt was good, the crowd of 107,895 that stayed in the game despite the miserable first half was rewarded.
Despite his touchdown pass, Hackenberg’s passing struggles continued. His first interception appeared to be an incomplete pass, but it was not overturned because of “technical difficulties.”
The tip of the ball touched the turf before Vonn Bell could scoop it four snaps into the game. But the play stood, and the Buckeyes’ Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 10-yard run three minutes later.
Ohio State’s second scoring play — a Sean Nuernberger 49-yard field goal four minutes into the second quarter — also was aided by an apparent officiating gaffe. The play clock ran out for several seconds before the ball was kicked, but no delay-of-game penalty was called.
Of the interception, referee John O’Neill told a pool reporter: “The play technically was not thoroughly reviewed due to some technical difficulties with the equipment.” He added that rules do not allow officials to use the in-house video board feeds.
Replay official Tom Fiedler said a botched delay-of-game call is not reviewable.
“All that equals 10 points, right?” a Franklin said afterward, referring to the interception and field-goal calls.
After a small pause, Franklin continued: “I’m a guy who would love to come in here on a weekly basis and tell you exactly what I think, and it goes against everything and who I am. I tell people the truth, but I’m not able to do that (in this case).”
When Barrett’s touchdown pass to Heuerman made the score 17-0 late in the second quarter, the game’s result seemed all but decided because of the Lions’ struggles on offense.
Ohio State had at least 50 points and 500 yards during each of its past four games but was limited to 293 on Saturday — much less than its season average of 533.8.
Hackenberg finished 31 for 49 for 224 yards, and Penn State’s Big Ten-worst rushing offense accumulated just 16 yards. Both, in part, were done in by the Lions’ inexperienced offensive line. Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) had five sacks.
“It, again, just comes back to consistency and overall execution on a consistent basis,” Hackenberg said.
Fifth-year senior guard Miles Dieffenbach watched from the sideline in street clothes, still not ready to make his season debut — as speculated he might Saturday — after offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.
The betting line moved farther in Ohio State’s favor throughout the week and was a consensus 141⁄2 points by kickoff, believed to the largest an opponent was favored at Beaver Stadium. Covers.com provides lines dating to 1985, and Penn State never was listed as more than a 121⁄2-point underdog at home.
“We’re a tough defense,” Hull said. “It might not look pretty all the time, but we keep fighting to get the job done.
“Unfortunately, in overtime, we needed to do more, and we didn’t.”
Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.